The future USS Daniel Inouye, a BIW-built Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, coasted down the Kennebec River Wednesday on its way to at-sea trials. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BATH — The future USS Daniel Inouye, Bath Iron Works’ 37th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, left the Bath shipyard Wednesday and cruised down the Kennebec River for its first at-sea trials.

More than 100 people gathered around Fort Popham, perched at the mouth of the Kennebec River in Phippsburg. Spectators waved at the $4 billion warship as it passed. The ship blasted its horn in greeting.

Shawn Teague, a BIW employee of 15 years, said watching a BIW ship go to sea trials is “like seeing your children grow up and go out to sea.”

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is 513 feet long and 66 feet wide, with a displacement of about 9,200 tons. The destroyer can reach speeds over 30 knots, and hold a crew of 304.

BIW Spokesman David Hench said at-sea trials, also called builder’s trials, are the shipyard’s chance to “measure a vessel’s performance and general seaworthiness” by testing the ship’s systems and identifying any issues before the Navy conducts its own tests.

If everything goes well, the destroyer will be delivered to the Navy this spring, said Hench. Once completed, Inouye’s home port will be Pearl City, Hawaii, its namesake’s home state.


Born in Hawaii in 1924, Daniel Inouye became a war hero for his bravery in World War II and later went on to represent Hawaii as the first Japanese-American elected to Congress. He served in the US Senate for 50 years and was the second-longest-serving senator in history. He died in 2012 after representing Hawaii since it became the 50th state in 1962.

During World War II, he served in the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made of soldiers of Japanese ancestry. Inouye was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart with Cluster for his bravery in battle, which cost him his right arm. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Robert Coughlin, a BIW employee of five years, said watching a BIW ship sail away from BIW for the first time is “humbling and rewarding.” Moreover, the USS Daniel Inouye is a special ship for the company because it’s the first destroyer to go to sea trials following a contentious nine-week union strike this summer.

“It’s a very exciting time to be part of BIW,” said Coughlin. “We went through the strike and while that was difficult to go through … there seems to be a different attitude in the yard now. We need to produce ships faster and everyone seems to know it and we’re acting on that.”

The USS Daniel Inouye blasted its horn at over 100 spectators gathered at Fort Popham in Phippsburg on Wednesday. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

When the strike ended this summer, shipyard executives and union leaders created the Joint Schedule Recovery Committee. The committee’s goal is recovering from production delays and ultimately building two ships per year.

“It has been said a million times, but the expression ‘Bath built is best built’ holds a lot of weight with the people who work at BIW,” said Coughlin. “We want to prove that. We want to be around in 45 years as a viable shipyard and it looks like we’re getting that done.”


Hench said the USS Daniel Inouye is the first ship in two years to leave BIW for sea trials and “represents our future as a shipyard.”

“This achievement is even more rewarding as it comes during a year of significant challenge for our shipyard and the entire country,” Hench said. “This accomplishment has been realized because of the fortitude and skill of our employees who worked together to make this important goal a reality.”

Work on the vessel began in Oct. 2014. The ship was christened in June 2019 and was initially scheduled to be delivered to the Navy over a year ago, Hench told The Times Record, but the COVID-19 pandemic and strike curtailed production.

BIW President Dirk Lesko told the Portland Press Herald in May that the shipyard already was at least six months behind schedule. The next month, Machinists Union Local S6, BIW’s largest union, representing 4,300 of its 6,800 workers, went on strike. Union members came back to work Aug. 24 after approving a new contract with the company, but the damage caused by their nine-week absence was already done.

In three months, the shipyard fell at least six more months behind schedule.

The coronavirus pandemic has been making its own contribution to the slowdown. After the first positive case was announced in March, only 41% of workers clocked into work, instead choosing to take unpaid leave to avoid potential exposure to the virus at the shipyard.

The company has been dealing with an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak over the past several weeks at multiple facilities. As of Wednesday, 96 BIW workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since March. Of those, 66 came from the main shipyard, according to the company’s website.

BIW reported 50 employees have tested positive so far this month and 12 have tested positive so far this week. Those employees were last at work between Dec. 1 and Dec. 11.

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